* New plant has 1,250 production workers
* Passat for North American market made at plant
* Production can ramp up to 220,000 vehicles/year
(Adds quote, background, byline)
By Bernie Woodall
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich., Aug 1 The manager of
Volkswagen AG's (VOWG_p.DE) new Tennessee plant said neither he
nor anyone else at the facility has been in contact with United
Auto Workers union representatives.
Reports that the German automaker has been in talks about
the UAW representing workers at the plant are "speculation,"
the manager, Don Jackson, said.
The Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant opened several months ago
and makes a Passat sedan for the North American market.
"No one from the UAW has visited the plant or asked to
visit," Jackson told reporters on Monday on the sidelines of an
industry conference in Northern Michigan.
Asked if he would allow such a visit, Jackson said,
"Probably not, unless the team members really want them to come
in. It's up to the team members to decide" if they want to be
Jackson said he was not aware if there has been talks
between the union and VW management in Germany.
"I'm not aware of that personally. I really haven't been
given that information. I haven't really talked to our union
leaders in Germany. I know that I visit Germany quite a lot. We
discuss several things but I haven't really discussed that
issue," he said.
There are about 1,250 production auto workers at the
Chattanooga plant, which has 2,000 workers overall.
The UAW has seen its membership drop steadily since its
peak in 1979, when it had almost 1.5 million members.
Membership has fallen 42 percent since 2004 to about 377,000 at
the end of last year.
UAW President Bob King has said the future of the union
depends on its ability to unionize workers at U.S. plants owned
by Asian and European automakers.
The union has not been successful in getting any of the
non-U.S. automakers to agree to allow organizers into plants. A
renewed effort to organize plants owned by foreign automakers
was announced a year ago at the same Traverse City conference
put on by the Center for Automotive Research.
LOWEST LABOR COSTS
Jackson said the Chattanooga plant has had low attrition
rates among the workers, who start at a wage of $14.50 per
hour. Its all-in labor costs for production workers is the
lowest for U.S. plants, estimated by the Center for Automotive
Research at $30 per hour.
Jackson would not comment on such all-in labor costs, which
are measured as a way to show cost competitiveness among
automakers and is a key issue in the ongoing talks between the
three major U.S. automakers and the UAW.
Volkswagen's estimated all-in labor costs are about half of
Ford Motor Co's (F.N) $58 per hour and General Motors Co's
(GM.N) $57 per hour.
The UAW in the past has repeatedly failed to organize
workers at the U.S plants of such automaker as Japan's Toyota
Motor Corp (7203.T), Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and Nissan Motor
Co (7201.T), South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) and Kia
Motors (000270.KS), and Germany's VW, BMW (BMWG.DE) and Daimler
AG's (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz.
Second-shift regular production at Chattanooga will begin
in late August or early September, Jackson said.
Passat production at the plant will reach 150,000 annually
and can ramp up to 200,000 to 220,000 if demand for Passat and
a possible second model to be made at the plant warrants it, he
said. Jackson said he did not know when a second product might
be made there.
VW is the world's third-largest automaker but is only ninth
in the U.S. market through June, according to Autodata Corp.
Sales of Volkswagen brand and its luxury brand Audi in the
first half of 2011 totaled 38,495 vehicles, up about 20
percent. That was only about a third of the sales of Toyota,
the leading foreign automaker in U.S. sales.
Volkswagen, back when a now-defunct version of its Beetle
compact car was a top import sold in the United States, had a
production plant in Pennsylvania. But by 1988, sales had slowed
and the plant was shut down.
Volkswagen has aggressive sales goals for the U.S. market.
By 2018 it wants to sell 1 million vehicles annually in the
United States -- 800,000 of the Volkswagen brand and 200,000 of
the Audi brand.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by Dave Zimmerman and